Tell most people they have less than 24 hours to plan a wedding and they might not know where to start. But Kim Kiser? She just sprang into action.
As nurse manager at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, Kiser corralled her team at the neuroscience intensive care unit and helped make a family’s last-minute request a reality.
“Kim, whoa, Lord! She is a saint,” said Zane Doty, whose impromptu wedding was put in motion after learning her brother would be removed from a ventilator. Ezekeil “David” Doty, 36, had battled cancer and related complications for more than 20 years.
“I didn’t want to miss out on sharing that moment with anyone I love,” Zane said. “The fact that my brother got to be there – even physically – was so special to me. I know he would have wanted to be there in some way.”
Joking with the nurses
Middle child David grew up like many kids, enamored with Star Wars and the History Channel. That’s until his early teens, when balance issues and near “constant headaches” prompted a trip to the doctor, Zane said.
David was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Treatment pushed the cancer into remission, but family said he experienced side effects and complications into adulthood.
“At the time, doctors said, ‘He’s never going to walk the same. He won’t have the same hand-eye coordination. You’ll be lucky if he makes it past 20 or 25 years old.’ And then he was in his thirties, kicking butt and taking names – everything that life threw at him,” Zane said.
David, unable to work, lived with his dad and stepmom in Monroe, North Carolina. Over the years, he leaned on family to take him to doctor’s visits.
An especially tough hospital stay led to an important decision: He wanted to become an organ donor. “He made it very clear, if it came to that, he wanted to donate and save people's lives,” Zane said. “It’s so David of him.”
In late July, he experienced worsening eyesight and hearing, dizziness and difficulty walking. What began as a checkup became a three-weeks long hospital stay at Presbyterian.
“David was sitting up in bed. You know, picking on me, making sarcastic comments like usual,” Zane said. “And I joked with the nurses, ‘He’s fine. Just send him home.’ But something told me to say goodbye and that I loved him. I’m really glad I listened to that feeling, because it turned out to be my last chance.”
Hours later, David had a “massive stroke.” He was in a medically induced coma – but never recovered.
A special request
Since David was an organ donor, Zane knew there wasn’t much time before the organ recovery process would begin.
She and her fiancé, Jeff McCormick, had delayed their wedding due to COVID. Instead of further postponing, the couple asked his hospital care team if David could be present. Kiser’s team was eager to help.
“Not only did they arrange for a photographer and videographer to be there, the staff surprised us by setting aside a private room,” Zane said. There was also a cake waiting at the nurses’ station and a card signed by the team.
It was late morning Aug. 20 as McCormick’s mom adjusted his navy blue tie, a contrast to his crisp, white shirt. The bride’s brown hair was down, in its signature curly style.
She wore a colorful dress with simple black flats, her modest bridal look completed with a pearl necklace and small bouquet of flowers from the hospital gift shop. Together, the couple, their parents and their stepparents made the short walk to David’s hospital room.
Chelsy Mitchell, an ordained minister and Novant Health board-certified chaplain who provides spiritual and emotional support to patients, loved ones and team members, was there to perform the ceremony. “David, your family wants you to be a part of this special moment,” she said to the small group clustered in the room.
Zane linked arms with her groom; her other hand clutched David’s. “I wanted to feel connected to my brother and to let him know that he was there with us in that moment,” she said later.
The couple read their handwritten vows, and sealed it with a kiss, as their song – “Like Real People Do,” by Hozier – played quietly on a cellphone.
“I thought we’d walk in and wham bam, ‘I do. You do. We're married.’ But the hospital managed to turn it into something that was a lot more special,” said the new Mrs. Zane McCormick, a first grade teacher in Greensboro.
A smile crept over Zane’s face when asked what David would say about her finally tying the knot. “It’s about time,” she laughed. Her brother’s sarcasm and sense of humor lives on, as does his gift of an organ donation.
Behind the scenes, Novant Health had a surgical team ready to operate. They were joined by a recovery team from LifeShare Carolinas – an organization that facilitates the recovery of donated organs, eyes and tissue for medical research and transplantation.
David was eligible to donate two kidneys and a liver, said Kate McCullough, LifeShare Carolinas community services manager. His donation saved two lives. (While three organs were donated, one recipient received a double transplant.)
“We can share basic things about recipients, like their state of residence and a general age range. For example, we might tell a family, ‘A 45-year-old man in Florida received Jane’s heart.’ We must maintain confidentiality, but we also want families to know the impact of their loved one’s contribution,”
Ezekeil “David” Doty’s legacy is many things – childhood cancer survivor, son, brother, friend, self-proclaimed nerd, eternal jokester, a warrior to the end. And his final gift to the world – organ donation – was an ending that’s, in some ways, also a new beginning.